Monday, January 19, 2015

April 1968, the Peirce Community Reacts to the Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.

When civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis in April of 1968, the concerns of the Peirce community reflected the concerns of our nation.  Students at the time were concerned with a number of issues related to civil rights, the war in Vietnam, the issue of poverty, as well as their regular college stressors related to commencement and classes. The April 18, 1968 edition of The Peircetonian, the student newspaper at the time, was the first edition published after the assassination. A photograph of a pensive King is on the cover above a selection from Adonais, a poem by the English Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelly. Reflecting the tragedy, and a quote from King, “America, you’ve strayed away” is presented without commentary.

King’s death was followed by an outbreak of unrest in Philadelphia and throughout the country. Teachers from Overbrook High School sent an open letter to The Peircetonian and papers throughout the city stating that despite the sensational reports of violence at the school, they were writing to praise “the overwhelming majority of our students for their decency and courage on a day that was tragic for us all.”  Editorials written by Peirce students varied in their reaction to King’s assassination. Franni Allen wrote an editorial calling on students and society to address the issue of poverty, while others called for non-violence and an end to the Vietnam War, an issue King addressed a year before his death. Decades later, Peirce developed a tradition of participating in the Martin Luther King Day of Service, in which members of the Peirce community volunteer their time on Martin Luther King Day to various projects throughout our city.

The words from Shelley’s featured poem are still fitting in our world today:

Peace, peace! He is not dead, he doth not sleep –
He hath awakened from the dream of life
‘Tis we, who, lost in stormy visions, keep

With phantoms an unprofitable strife…